Enjoy a lengthy excursion from the mountains of Denver to one of the West Coast's most popular cities, San Francisco. The trip through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California gives you plenty of sights to see. Some of the fun things you'll want to experience on your Denver to San Francisco road trip include taking a hike in the forests of Rocky Mountain National Park, swimming in the Great Salt Lake, exploring Arches National Park, and getting spooked at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.
As you go through each state on your Denver to San Francisco road trip, there are a couple of national parks that are definitely worth visiting along the way.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect place to start your road trip. The park is located north of Denver, a short 1 hour and 25 minutes away on scenic Highway 36. This park spans the Continental Divide and is best known for its world-class hiking trails. While you're there, hit the Emerald Lake Trail, but make sure to get there early since it is one of the most popular trails in the park and gets crowded quickly. You'll also want to check out Bear Lake, the perfect place for taking photos. From there, you can get magnificent views of Hallett Peak and Half Mountain as it stands in front of Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a stop you should plan to make on your Denver to San Francisco RV road trip. Still rich with geothermal activity, Lassen Peak hasn't experienced a major eruption since 1915 and is the largest plug dome volcano on the planet. In the park, there are over 57 hiking trails that are open for most of the year. The most trekked are Bumpass Hell, Devil's Kitchen, Sulphur Works, and Cinder Cone. You'll see bubbling mud pots, boiling springs, and fumaroles, which are openings near volcanoes that release hot, sulfurous gases.
Utah and California have some of the best state parks in the country. If you're up for an adventure, consider adding some of these parks to your list.
Goblin Valley State Park
In Goblin Valley State Park, "hoodoos" are the main attraction. Often referred to by locals as "goblins," thousands of these mushroom-shaped sandstone formations stand in the center of this Utah park. There are three trails to hike, but you can go off the grid for maximum exploration. If you're bringing bikes on your Denver to San Francisco RV road trip, check out Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail where you can catch amazing views of Thousand Lake Mountain, Capitol Reef, Factory Butte, and Boulder Top.
Tahoe State Recreation Area
Tahoe State Recreation Area is located on the northwest side of Lake Tahoe in Tahoe City. Spend time at the second-deepest lake in the U.S. with plenty of off-road hiking and biking trails to explore. A drive around the lake takes you to three historical locations: the Tahoe Biltmore (north shore), the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion (west shore), and Vikingsholm (south shore). All are said to be haunted and rich with local history.
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is perfect for biking with a 32-mile long stretch that connects to parks in Sacramento. Some of the best sights to see are Forest Hill Bridge, Folsom Dam, and Minor's Ravine Trail. Make time for a whitewater rafting adventure on the South Fork American River where you can also fish and kayak. For fans of Johnny Cash, the park also has a Folsom Prison Museum filled with artifacts housed in a small cottage.
The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, was the inspiration for Stephen King's novel "The Shining." A definite treat for fans, the historic hotel offers two tours: a day tour where you'll learn about the hotel's 110-year history and a night tour that allows you to experience the eerie ambiance of the hotel's architecture, lore, and connection to pop culture. Your nighttime tour guide encourages questions but may leave you wondering, what really happened in room 237?
The Great Salt Lake
Not far from Salt Lake City lies the Great Salt Lake where you can experience virtual weightlessness as the high concentration of salt in the water—12% salinity—helps you easily float. White sand beaches are available for sunbathing as are freshwater showers so you can rinse off. Sailing and kayaking offer a different experience of the lake, but watch out for the "North Shore Monster." It is said that settlers in the late 1800s witnessed a sea creature similar to the Loch Ness Monster swimming in the depths of the lake. Some of the other great sights to see here are the Spiral Jetty, Antelope Island, and the historical Benson Grist Mill.
Arches National Park
Located just north of Moab, Utah, on Route 191, Arches National Park wows with its collection of over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch are two of the park's most famous attractions you'll have to add to your road trip itinerary from Denver to San Francisco. The Devil's Garden Trail offers you a more rugged hiking experience with chances to observe Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. There's more to explore with biking, horseback riding, and backpacking trails also available.
Grand Junction is the largest city on the Western Slope of Colorado and is the gateway to the Colorado National Monument and the Grand Mesa. As the heart of Colorado's wine country, the city hosts the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest held the third week of every September and has over 25 local wineries. While you're here, enjoy some prehistoric history at the Museum of Western Colorado, featuring some major digs from nearby locations.
Junction West RV Park has a campground and a dump station with potable water and proximity to Grand Junction's shops and restaurants. Fruita is also nearby if you're up for some mountain biking.
More than just a gambling city, Reno, or "The Biggest Little City in the World," is home to a wildlife sanctuary, over 2,000 works of art, and a planetarium. The Nevada Museum of Art, founded in 1931, features contemporary and classic styles of art with revolving exhibitions as well as fine French cuisine at Chez Louie located inside the museum. An out-of-this-world experience awaits at the Fleischmann Planetarium on the University of Reno campus with a variety of themes to choose from, such as black holes and stargazing. More places to explore are the Truckee River Walk, the Animal Ark, and lunch or dinner at Toucan Charlie's.
Davis Creek Regional Park is located 20 miles south of Reno. It has a dump station and campground. The park has a small fishing pond, several hiking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, and beautiful wooded areas with views of the Sierra Nevadas.
Sacramento is a great place to explore the history of California. The state capital has a free museum with complimentary tours and viewing of historic films in its basement. Over 40 murals can be seen scattered throughout the city, painted by local, national, and international artists, and can be found by map if you want to see them all. On your way out of town, you can also stop at Old Sacramento State Historic Park, cross Tower Bridge, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of Midtown.
Loomis RV Park is right off Interstate 80 near Folsom. This park has a dump station, an RV campground, and a laundromat. You can enjoy some local hospitality in Loomis' quaint shops and restaurants as you soak in the woodsy scenery on your road trip from Denver to San Francisco.